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TheStreet Open House

Celebrity Ex-Cons: America's Amoral Fascination

The following commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet's guest contributor program, which is separate from the company's news coverage.

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- What do Jack Abramoff, Vaclav Havel, Nelson Mandela and Aung-San-Suu-Kyi have in common? To start, they are all ex-con celebrities who have written books with a political freedom theme. For all of them, prison followed their perspectives on political freedoms. Only Jack Abramoff was jailed for abusing these freedoms, for example by teaching his clients "how Washington worked." The others wanted to sample freedoms, like those Americans take for granted. They would never have thought of perverting the precious gift of protected freedoms.

Jack Abramoff

All too were obsessed with political corruption, but it was only Abramoff that was obsessed with profiting from corruption. The others lived to tell the sordid tale of politicians who placed personal wealth ahead of national wealth.

They all saw American-style democracy and free markets as the ticket to eliminating human rights abuses, except Jack. The devoutly religious Abramoff demonstrated that he could corrupt the democratic process to preserve unconscionable human rights abuses in sweatshops run on a U.S. territory.

After prison, all made it to the national stage. Havel, Mandela and Aung-San-Suu-Kyi became national political leaders who delivered to their nation the freedoms they had fought for. This has brought prosperity to their nations. (The jury is still not out in Burma.) These three also won or were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. They are people everyone should want to be like.

Abramoff once said, "Tom DeLay is the man we all want to be when we grow up." For national stage appearances Abramoff testified on his illicit dealings before the Senate Indian Affairs Division. Two Casino Jack movies have also given Abramoff and "how Washington works" national and even international recognition. More recently he has been on the national talk show circuit promoting his new book where he reveals that Washington is teeming with amoral folks like himself. The book is selling like hotcakes.

The recent death of former Czech president Vaclav Havel made the national news, too, as world leaders and thousands of mourners paid their respect to a man described as having a powerful moral compass. Havel spent many years in and out of prison. His crime was that he wrote about the absurdities of communism. One of his books is, The Art of the Impossible: Politics as Morality in Practice.

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